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Preface

In case you missed it, “David” who has frequently commented on recent posts and “drice2,” my most frequent commenter from the beginning, contributed to an important discussion on the relationship between “making the world a better place” and the redemptive work which will bring the kingdom to fruition on the great day when King Jesus claims all for himself. If you missed the discussion, check out the Comments on the last post, number 5 in this series. (I believe “David” and I disagree, but that is a subject for another day.)

What Worries Me

In this post I turn my attention at last to the present day and exactly what about my country worries me so much. The US political system is broken; the Congress, first among the three equal branches of the US Federal Government, is especially dysfunctional. There are many factors which have contributed to this mess. Two of these have especially worried me:

1) The gradual but accelerating shrinking of the middle class and

2) The best Congress that money can buy [off].

1) Whatever Happened to the US Middle Class?

This reality has been creeping up on people, little by little, for the past several decades. Sometimes issues are hard to understand because they are far removed; this one has simply been too close to most of us. Because things are often not “real,” at least for the older generations until the media reports on them, for many the loss of the middle class sunk in when CBS News began reporting earlier this year on a number of formerly middle-class families in Florida who have lost their homes, live in tents or out of a bread truck, whose kids wash up for school in the rest rooms at Mc Donald’s or Walmart.

Although it has finally made it to prime-time newscasts, this issue has been growing for decades. In the past thirty years the US has lost 50,000 manufacturing facilities; not 50,000 manufacturing jobs, 50,000 factories.

A web search using the words “shrinking middle class” will net you at least a dozen reputable studies on pages one and two by universities as well as media organizations, etc. Some are directly built on recent census data. What will you find? Plenty.

The USA, which at one time was appropriately called “the land of opportunity,” is the now the developed nation in the world in which one is least likely to be born poor and die rich and the most likely to fall upon hard times through circumstances beyond one’s control: poor health, economic downturn, foreclosure, etc. US wages in real dollars have fallen steadily since 1974. Only those fortunate enough to be in public sector unions have come anywhere close to maintaining the standard of living of forty years ago. At that time almost any family of five could live on one income, purchase a home, pay its bills, enjoy a family vacation once a year while still putting some money away for the kids’ post-secondary education as well as a comfortable retirement. And, in the midst of all that, have the leisure time for a hobby or two and time to think about, debate and be moderately active in local and national politics.

The 1950s/60s middle class was relatively secure in their circumstances. As a result people had time to consider matters beyond their own immediate lives. Today’s nervous middle class have, with the demands of at least two full-time jobs, etc., very little time for reading, discussing and for being political amateurs on which the success of democracy is based. Lots of us used to all know about civics and that freedom was not free but required everyone to pay attention some of the time. We used to have a middle class which knew the Devil was often in the details and that the best way to maintain a vital republic was to be a well-informed citizenry.

Now most of us try do it on the cheap and get to the polls every four years, maybe, if nothing else comes up. After all, it’s okay… We’re still the greatest nation ever? …right?

The disappearance of a middle class with time to think politically: this is why I am worried.

2) Broken Branches: Government Out of [the Peoples’] Control

About a year ago the US President went to the people on television and made a plea to the nation to support an initiative of his. He asked the electorate, regardless of party, to write, call and email their legislators in Congress, to get behind him and support a continuation of his stimulus measures, focusing on repairing and replacing public physical infrastructure like school buildings, bridges and roads. This was hardly an unusual event. Presidents have gone “over the heads” of Congress by appealing to “their employers,” at least since FDR first discovered the power of radio. This tactic has, of course, met with mixed success, mostly based on how fired up the citizenry was about participating in direct communication with Congress on behalf of a given administration.

This particular effort was truly different and frustrating. The cause/effect relationship had in the past meant that if the people got behind the President a log-jam could be broken but if the President could not motivate the voters then little might happen. This time a truly frustrated electorate, fed up with Washington gridlock actually did respond en mass. Post boxes overflowed, email servers crashed and phone lines were jammed for hours. The people did speak with a clear voice as they rarely do these days. And then? Nothing happened at all. In spite of overwhelming support for the President’s initiative not one senator or congressman changed his or her vote. Why?

To quote Chris Hayes [in full, last post] again,

When you have representatives who feel they do not have to listen to the voters, …they start making a lot of really terrible decisions.

So, legislators made the terrible decision to ignore their constituents. And just why did elected representatives believe they no-longer needed to listen to and hold themselves accountable to the electorate when it had clearly spoken?

Because Congress has several decades of political experience which tells its members they will suffer no “voter backlash” on election day if they ignore the will of the people now and then. Because a very small number of rich men (and a few rich women) have begun to cover almost every cent which each legislator needs to raise: all that it costs to get each of them reelected.

See how it works? Congress no-longer responds to the people because the government has new pay-masters. Moreover, they have lobbyists who help them write the legislation on behalf of the people who pay for their campaigns.

Three weeks ago tomorrow, the light-weight TV news magazine, CBS Sunday Morning, did a happy piece on political lobbying, on how it works, on how all those very well-paid people, many of whom are former members of Congress, use their considerable influence to get everything they want from legislators who are happy to accommodate since the people paying the lobbyists such handsome sums also contribute handsomely to the legislators’ campaigns. At the end of the piece to sum it all up, the corporate media giant, CBS Television, had a nice, smiling corporate type waxing full about how “…this system was probably the worst system under the sun, except for all the other ones!” Yuk, yuk!

Yup. Yup.

But wait a minute. The smiley corporate guy was intentionally channeling an old saying by Winston Churchill about how representative democracy was the very worst system in the world except for all the others. Churchill was talking about the system we had before the lobbyists took over the business of crafting legislation from the people we supposedly elect to do that for us, for the sake of justiceChurchill was not talking about our present “government of the money, by the money and for the money,” the broken system which we have now.

Did anyone else read George Orwell’s Animal Farm back in the day? Remember how the words on the barn wall read,

Four legs, good; two legs, bad.

And then one day it read,

Four legs, good; two legs, better.

And the pigs had begun dressing in human clothes and walking about on their hind legs.

“Wait a minute… is that the same thing it said or is it different …somehow?”

“I… I can’t remember; better ask somebody smarter than us… an expert.”

“Who?”

“The donkey says he knows but he won’t say.”

“Then ask the pigs…  …maybe?”

That is why I am worried.

Next Post:

In the last post on this subject I plan to discuss some things I am doing to deal with my worries, some actions I am taking. If you would either like to talk me down and show me why things are just not as bad as I think they are or else perhaps contribute some insights to these issues and some possible solutions, I am always glad to be schooled and I would not mind being talked down at all!

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